August 10, 2009, 5:00 am
by: The Financial Blogger
This article was written by Kevin Press, Assistant Vice-President Marketing, Sun Life Financial
If you’ve been following the U.S. healthcare debate, you will have no doubt heard warnings about Canadian-style healthcare. By now you know that the system up north is inaccessible, replete with labor shortages and laden with a bureaucracy that can only be described as socialist.
None of this is true. Take it from me, a Canadian.
My name is Kevin. I blog for Sun Life Financial under the name Today’s economy. My family and I live in Toronto. My kids just turned four and two, and my wife and I both depend on prescription drugs to keep serious illness at bay. In other words, we know the healthcare system here on a personal level.
What’s it like to live with Canada’s healthcare system? Frustrating, occasionally. Other times it can make you feel truly fortunate. Just don’t be fooled by stories of Canadians mortgaging their homes so that they can access healthcare in the U.S., or worse, dying while they wait for the system to provide care. These anecdotes are being torqued to scare you.
I won’t rehash the fundamentals of the healthcare system here. That information is widely available on sites like Health Canada and Wikipedia.
What I will do is provide first-hand observations of the Canadian system and its impact on health and personal finances. This blog attracts sophisticated readers – I’ll leave it to you to come to your own conclusions about how all of this should or shouldn’t inform the U.S. healthcare debate.
The wait times won’t kill you. The worst experience my wife and I ever had waiting for care happened at The Hospital for Sick Children. It’s not a dramatic story. Our daughter had a fever; we decided to play it safe. We arrived about 11 p.m. We went home six hours later, without having seen a doctor. This kind of thing happens sometimes in Canadian emergency rooms. We were told, on that night, that there were two seriously ill children in the hospital who required the close attention of the hospital’s doctors. On the other hand, a couple of weeks ago our daughter had a croup attack at about 10 p.m. My wife took her into another ER, and was seen about an hour later. They were both home before 2 a.m. It is fair to say that we benefit from a better standard of ER care than you might receive in a smaller Canadian city. It’s not fair to say that Canada’s healthcare system is flawed in such a way that people die as a result of wait times.
- The medical professionals, and the care they provide, are world-class. There are Canadian doctors, nurses and other professionals who move to the U.S. for better career opportunities. There’s no denying this. But that hasn’t left us with a sub-standard level of professionalism. My wife’s doctor is an internationally recognized leader in his field. We can’t imagine being with anyone else.
- I’ve never even met a healthcare bureaucrat. My wife and I have two sets of healthcare relationships (three if we count one another). A) Our doctors and other healthcare professionals. B) Our insurance company. Period.
- Group benefit plans make a big difference. The Wikipedia page referenced above reports that about one-third of Canadian healthcare services are paid for via the private sector. Sixty-five per cent of Canadians have private health insurance, usually sponsored by employers. These plans typically reimburse eligible medical expenses not covered by the member’s provincial plan. That can include prescription drugs, vision care, hospital care, medical services and equipment, paramedical services and assistance with out-of-province emergency travel. Canadians who don’t have this additional coverage, or who have only limited additional coverage, pay out-of-pocket for these healthcare expenses. I posted a primer on employee benefit plans in July. (In the interest of disclosure, my employer is in the group benefits business.)
- Canadians enjoy a safety net that prevents personal bankruptcies caused by healthcare expenses. Let me give you another personal example. The drugs my wife and I take would bankrupt us if we had to pay for the portion not covered by our standard provincial and employer-sponsored plans. We were lucky; my wife was invited to participate in a clinical trial that means her meds are provided free of charge. But if that hadn’t happened, we would still have access to Ontario’s Trillium Drug Program. The program provides assistance to people “who have high prescription drug costs in relation to their net household income.” It saves people from bankruptcy.
Bottom line? You could do a lot worse than Canadian-style healthcare. It isn’t perfect, but a lot of us benefit from it, in both health and financial terms. In fact, a lot of us are proud of our healthcare system.
In 2004, CBC Television sifted through 1.2 million votes in a contest called The Greatest Canadian. In the end it was Tommy Douglas, former premier of Saskatchewan and the “father of Medicare,” that won the day. I’ve yet to meet anyone who was surprised.
image source: TunnelBug
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